Why You Need A Badge At A Convention

Want to hear an apocryphal story that’s actually a true story?  I’ve got one that deals with badges.

Back when Science Fiction conventions were small, or later when Comic Book conventions were one large room full of people selling comic books, badges weren’t necessary.  Either everybody knew everybody or membership only covered going into the dealers’ room and wandering around.  For Science Fiction conventions badges were already necessary by the late-sixties, but some comic book shows still don’t require them.

Any show with multiple rooms probably requires badges because otherwise a lot of people won’t pay to get in.  The ever-increasing costs of running a convention made it necessary to add the expense of creating badges for everybody.  The rarity and expense of badges at some shows (I’m looking at you, San Diego!) have led to some enhancements on the badges, such as bar codes.  Some conventions now even require photo ids to be carried at all times so the convention can scan the badge and compare the info to the photo id and confiscate the badge if it’s being “shared” by more than one person.  It appears that in modern times we do need our stinking badges.

Since the purpose of a badge is to “encourage” attendees to actually pay to get into the rooms, conventions found it necessary to have guards posted at the doors to some of the rooms.  Which rooms are guarded varies by convention, but you can usually count on the dealers’ room and the main programming room to have guards on duty most of the time.

The 1986 World Science Fiction Convention was held in Atlanta.  It’s tradition at WorldCons that the only people getting in for free are the guests of honor (the main guest at Confederation was Ray Bradbury) and maybe the toastmaster.  Everybody else is running around with a badge to prove they belong there.  The convention sprawled through two hotels since neither one of them was large enough for the convention, and that made checking badges more important than usual.  It was common in Southern conventions at the time that I was on the con committee with the assignment of overseeing gaming (role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons and some board games).  As to be expected, I didn’t have guards posted to “protect” the integrity of the gaming area.

My wife at the time, Kathy, was left with little to do during most of the convention.  She didn’t read much science fiction or fantasy so the panels weren’t of much interest to her. I sent her to the Gophers room where she volunteered to help out.  Somehow she got assigned to help guard one of the entrances to the dealers’ room, and she was given a chair and told to make sure that everybody who tried to come into the room had a badge.

An elderly gray-haired gentleman with prominent dark horn-rimmed glasses but no badge came up to the entrance and started to enter, and Kathy jumped up to defend the convention’s honor.  She informed the man that he needed a badge to enter the room, and there were gasps of horror from his companions – it was the convention’s guest of honor, Ray Bradbury.  There was much confusion as the entourage did their best to override the poor distressed guard, but Ray laughed and gave her a hug.  He told her it was okay, that she was just doing her job.

The story spread around like wildfire, and two of my friends who were dealers that sold round badges with witty sayings on them (Scott and Jane Dennis) made a special badge for Kathy.  The badge simply said, “Bradbury Schmadbury, you still need a badge!”

Kathy seemed to have a good time at the convention in spite of that unfortunate run-in with Fandom royalty.  She rode back home on the airplane fighting tears and clutching a single rose that somebody gave her.  Our marriage didn’t last too much longer after that, but the breakup had nothing to do with Kathy blocking access to the dealers’ room.  At least I don’t think it did.

I’ve since heard the story retold numerous times by people who weren’t there and didn’t even know Kathy and certainly didn’t know my part in the drama.  The stories they tell are like a game of telephone: there might be a kernel of truth in their version, but it usually wasn’t close to the actual events.  It leaves me very suspicious of history books written decades later that aren’t first-person contemporaneous accounts of events.

For one of the most influential bands of the sixties, Cream had remarkably little impact on Top 40 radio.  Sunshine of Your Love and White Room both reached the top ten, but after that, it was all downhill.  Crossroads only got up to 17, and their last single to get into the Hot 100 only made it up to #65.  That single was appropriately (and accidentally) named Badge.

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